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Chelsea restaurant guide: The best places to eat now

The Chelsea restaurant scene is constantly shifting—our critic-approved selection includes trusty favorites and the latest hot spots.

The arrival of The NoMad, a block away from cult hits The Breslin Bar & Dining Room and The John Dory Oyster Bar, has boosted the Chelsea restaurant scene and cemented the neighborhood’s northeast corner as a hot dining destination. You’ll also find top-notch barbecue and tapas spots, plus plenty of cheap eats and great brunch places.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Chelsea, New York

Boqueria

Critics' pick

Given that Boqueria is named for Barcelona’s centuries-old food market, you might expect the menu to lean toward the classics. Not quite. Chef Seamus Mullen’s bacalao (salt cod), a standard tapas ingredient, is served here as an airy and crisp beignet. The most successful sangria is an unorthodox beer-based version that mixes lager, pear puree, lemon juice and triple sec. The Flatiron location is small and the bar area packed; a better bet is the 16-seat communal table, where you can nibble shaved jamón under the glow of filament bulbs. Meanwhile, the Soho branch is a less manic scene, more than twice as big and nearly twice as inviting. There, diners can see into the open kitchen, where exceptional classics like fluffy salt-cod croquetas, and dates oozing cabrales cheese are realized. Caveat emptor: While the big flavors that made the first spot a sensation have successfully transitioned farther downtown, so too have the minuscule portions.

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Flatiron

The Breslin Bar & Dining Room

Critics' pick

Even in a city smitten with large-format feasts—whole hogs, huge steaks, heaps of fried chicken—the Breslin breaks new gluttonous ground. The third project from restaurant savant Ken Friedman and Anglo chef April Bloomfield offers the most opulently fatty food in New York—served in medieval portions in a raucous rock & roll setting. Within the casual-restaurant landscape that the pair, also behind the Spotted Pig, has come to epitomize—a world without tablecloths, reservations or haute cuisine pretense—the new gastropub delivers a near-perfect dining experience. Friedman, a pack rat who conceived the design alongside top firm Roman and Williams, has constructed an urban hunting lodge filled with wildlife paintings, figurines and knickknacks. The ethos, which extends to the cuisine, might well be described as late-period Henry VIII, when the king had ballooned into a corpulent sybarite. Despite nightly waits of an hour or more to sit down, don’t be surprised to discover a few empty seats. Friedman and Bloomfield are still staggering tables (an oversold restaurant is worth little if it’s full of unhappy diners). Which explains why the food, service and pacing were all on the mark when I dined here, even though it’s been open for dinner for barely a month.While you wait, you could do worse than to belly up to the bar (if you can get there) and quell your appetite with an order of scrumpets. The snacks look like fried breaded ribs, but are made from lamb belly—boneless strips so succulent, they’re almost liquid inside. Once you’re seated, the procession of animal fat continues. Groaning boards of house-made terrines feature thick slices made from guinea hen, rabbit and pork (including exceptional headcheese). Meanwhile, the pig’s-foot-for-two entre could feed the entire Tudor court. This delicious, theatrical haunch is stuffed with cotechino sausage, breaded, fried, and then doused in a velvety mix of white wine and cream (BYO Lipitor). The pork belly roulade delivers an exquisite rejoinder to anyone who insists it’s time to retire the cut. Sweet, smoky and fragrant with red wine and apples, it may be the best thing to happen to bellies since David Chang. Here, as at the Spotted Pig, the burger is the most frugal main course—which only partly explains its popularity. A puck of lamb, gorgeously charred and deftly spiced, is a delectable handful, layered with feta and red onions inside a pliant sourdough bun. The thick golden “chips” served with it are fried three times, until they’re crunchy on the outside and like mashed potatoes within. While there are dishes that satisfy less gout-destined appetites—Caesar salad, sea bass, top-notch poussin—little on the menu qualifies as light. Warm smoked salmon, in one fine piscatorial starter, comes showered in bacon nuggets and garlic beurre blanc. Onion soup wears the usual crown of melted fromage, but also comes infused with a rich dose of bone marrow. In other words, it takes an iron stomach to dine here. Desserts, served in oversize bowls, are as generously portioned as everything else. These British boarding-school treats—warm sticky-toffee pudding spiked with Turkish coffee; a sensational sweet and salty frozen custard sundae with chocolate sauce, treacle, caramel corn and peanuts—turn the end of the meal into a Dickensian Christmas feast. To get there you may need to pace yourself—and save half that pig’s foot for lunch.

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Midtown

Co.

Critics' pick

This unassuming pizzeria marks the restaurant debut of cult baker Jim Lahey (Sullivan Street Bakery). Co. lives and dies by its famous no-knead pizza dough, which produces a firm-chewy crust blistered in a searing 900-degree oven. Although the classics are on offer, you’d do well to explore the more creative pies: The Flambé is topped with mellow onions, Gruyère, béchamel and chewy lardons, and the Popeye features three cheeses under a blitz of fresh spinach. The rest of the menu is so low-key, it’s as if the chef were afraid to risk upstaging the pizzas. Stick to a pie and a beer or a well-priced glass of wine.

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Chelsea

Del Posto

Critics' pick

With four-star ambitions and prices to match, Mario Batali’s Del Posto set the bar awfully high when it opened in 2005, but the cavernous restaurant has become nothing less than the city’s top destination for refined, upscale Italian cuisine. The clubby dining room, serenaded nightly by a twinkling grand piano, feels like the lobby of a very opulent grand hotel. The kitchen, under the stewardship of longtime Batali protégé Mark Ladner, challenges its French competition in butter consumption. A gorgeous mixed mushroom appetizer drowning in the stuff, as do ethereal ricotta-filled gnudi and flaky thyme-flower sprinkled turbot fillets. The most show-stopping dishes, intended for sharing, include hunks of lamb and veal and pitch-perfect risotto for two. The all-Italian wine list is suitably encyclopedic and exorbitantly priced.

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Chelsea

Hill Country

Critics' pick

The guys behind Hill Country are about as Texan as Bloomberg in a Stetson, but the ’cue deserves Lone Star cred all the same. Sausage imported from Kreuz market in Lockhart, TX; slow-smoked slabs of tips-on pork spare ribs; and two brisket options—lean and “moist” (read: fatty)—are not to be missed. Desserts, like jelly-filled cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, suggest some kind of Leave It to Beaver fantasy, though June Cleaver probably wouldn’t approve of the two dozen tequilas and bourbons on offer.

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Midtown

The John Dory Oyster Bar

Critics' pick

April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s original Meatpacking District John Dory was an ambitious, pricey endeavor, but its reincarnation in the Ace Hotel is an understated knockout. Tall stools face a raw bar stocked with a rotating mix of East and West Coast oysters, all expertly handled and impeccably sourced. True to form, the rest of Bloomfield’s tapas-style seafood dishes are intensely flavored. Chilled lobster tastes larger than life, its sweet flesh slicked in an herbaceous tomalley vinaigrette. Meanwhile, warm dishes take their cues mostly from the garlic-and-olive-oil belt—meaty octopus doused in aioli, plus miniature mussels stuffed with boisterous mortadella meatballs. Though the utilitarian sweets aren’t worth sticking around for, the savory food here merits the inevitable wait for a table.

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Midtown

The NoMad

Critics' pick

In the golden age of robber baron New York—we’re talking turn of the last century—there were hotel restaurants like the NoMad all across the city, their grand dining rooms buzzing with beau monde patrons morning till night. The recent return of the all-day hotel clubhouse began with hip reinventions of the form at the Standard, Ace and Gramercy Park Hotels. But the NoMad, with its rich mahogany bar and dining rooms shrouded in red velvet curtains, is our first truly opulent throwback. The luxurious setting, flawless service, and preponderance of foie gras and truffles call to mind an haute cuisine titan like Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Daniel Boulud. But with its fashionable crowd and cool, voluptuous vibe—the decor is by hot Parisian designer Jacques Garcia—there are clearly some young Turks behind the wheel. The NoMad is the sophomore effort from chef Daniel Humm and front-of-house partner Will Guidara, who’ve been in cahoots at Eleven Madison Park since 2006. Last year they inherited the lease and the reins of ?the place from their former boss Danny Meyer, capping a meteoric rise through New York’s fine-dining ranks (following a James Beard Award and maximum star ratings from the Times and the Michelin Guide). Their slightly more accessible follow-up features plush armchairs around well-spaced tables and a stylish return to three-course dining. Humm and Guidara— rejecting zeitgeisty restaurant tropes like pass-around plates, counter seating and spare Greenmarket cooking—have created an old-fashioned restaurant that’s also exciting and new. Like Meyer, Humm and Guidara know how to inspire a team. Their whole staff is as focused as they are on getting every detail right. Even the complimentary bread is knock-your-socks-off delicious, baked to order and topped in translucent potato and zucchini medallions. But despite the restaurant’s fastidious vibe, there’s enough whimsy in the food to appease the rock & roll gods said to be the muse for the place—it’s dedicated to the spirit of the Rolling Stones (whose concert portraits hang in the kitchen). The haute bistro menu is, across the board, much more unplugged than it seems. A dead-simple snack of radishes and butter is elevated here to high art, the crisp crudités dipped like chocolate-cloaked strawberries in good melted butter—a still life on a wood board beside a sprinkle of salt. And you’ve never had sweetbreads like Humm’s bar bite croustillants—crispy cigars filled with a delicate, peppery mix of sweetbreads, parsley, shallots and cream. Humm turns up the volume on classic dishes, molding his super-silky foie gras torchon around a Tootsie Roll core of pig’s-head terrine, with an edible flower and salsa verde garnish. Split marrowbones are filled with a rich and briny anchovy, bread and warm marrow stuffing, with fried parsley salad and bordelaise sauce. Even the fruits de mer platter is unlike any other: individually plated portions of the most stunning seafood, each element its own composed triumph (raw scallop with pistachio and yuzu; king crab with avocado and lime; sea urchin with green apple gelée). The food, like the space, exudes unbuttoned decadence—like wearing a tux with no socks. A poached egg stars in one over-the-top starter, its barely contained yolk melting into a sweet, velvety soup of brown butter and Parmesan, with shaved white asparagus and toasted quinoa for crunch. And while there are plenty of rich-man roasted chickens for two in New York, the amber-hued bird here—with a foie gras, brioche and black truffle stuffing under the skin—is surely the new gold standard. It’s an art-directed beauty, well worth its $78 price tag, the succulent breasts delivered on potato puree with black truffles, dark meat shredded into a communal bowl with morels, more truffles and foamy brown butter. Other entrées are nearly as memorable, anointed in power chords of intense and elegant flavors. Pink duck breast, as tender as any, has the exotic perfume of Vadouvan curry, with beautifully caramelized roasted lady apples and a punchy apple vinegar jus. A split, roasted lobster, meanwhile, arrives bathed in lobster roe and crème fraîche, with pools of tarragon butter in its cavities and house-made potato chips—an improbably delicious populist touch—showered on top. Desserts, as thoughtfully elevated as everything else here, come courtesy of Mark Welker, Eleven Madison Park’s former sugar lieutenant. The many elements in each work toward singular themes—like a study in apples featuring baked-to-order apple brioche with apple caramel, apple brandy and wake-you-up tangy apple sorbet among its components. Honey is the driving force in another glorious, nuanced creation, featuring honey shortbread and honey brittle with dehydrated milk foam crisps (like eggless meringues), with super-floral buckwheat honey drizzled on top. Eleven Madison Park might be the best restaurant in New York right now, but the NoMad is certainly not far behind. If you suddenly came into a great deal of cash, you might think of it as the everyday version of its even more extravagant sibling (dinner here doesn’t come cheap). The food will haunt you, in the best possible way—the minute you leave, you’ll pine to come back. Vitals Eat this: Radishes with butter, sweetbread croustillants, foie gras with pig’s head, fruits de mer platter, egg with quinoa, roasted chicken for two, lobster with potato chips, apple brioche, milk and honey Drink this: Eleven Madison alum Leo Robitschek has crafted one of the most exciting cocktail programs anywhere, an iconoclastic roster of updated classics, as nuanced as Humm’s food. Start with a Badminton Cup, a robust spin on a Pimm’s cup made with red wine and sherry, or an herbaceous Gilsey, a super-complex gin martini of sorts with kirschwasser and green Chartreuse (each $15). The Fortune Teller (also $15) is a rich, funky blend of Venezuelan rum, gentian quina and Cynar. While this is mostly wine-drinking food, the Brooklyn Brewery developed a sweet amber Le Poulet brew to be paired with the chicken. ?The wine list is as impressive—and pricey—as you’d expect, but features ?a few moderate finds, including a beautifully earthy Domaine du Cayron Gigondas red ($65) from the Rhone. Sit here: An ideal evening would begin with a stand-up drink at the bar, followed by a few snacks in the bustling atrium dining room. The plush parlor in back is a more hushed environment to appreciate serious food and good company (and tends to draw a more VIP crowd). Finish the night with a postprandial snifter of something brown in the beautiful library. Conversation piece: While the restaurant’s designer is French, so much here has a New York identity. The uniforms are by New York collective Bespoken, run by two sets of young brothers. The plates and dinnerware come courtesy of local designer Jono Pandolfi. Brooklyn artisan Alex Kravchuk did the bronze serving trays and wine buckets. Book designer Thatcher Wine (son of former Quilted Giraffe chef Barry) curated the library. For a time there were free bottles of booze hidden among the books (until the treasure hunt got out of hand). By Jay Cheshes

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Midtown

Txikito

Critics' pick

Chef Alexandra Raij celebrates the cuisine of Spain’s Basque region at this spartan tapas spot. Though it lacks the bustle of Raij’s previous projects (Tia Pol, El Quinto Pino), her sprawling menu still features some solid Iberian fare. Adventurous eats include breaded-and-fried tongue cutlets; squid cut into wispy strands with sweet onions and garlic; and fries with cod-roe mayonnaise. In the end though, expediency—most nights a small party can get in with little wait—may be the best reason for choosing Txikito over its often-packed forebears.

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Chelsea

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